The term “terrorism” is commonly understood as political violence outside the norms of conflicts between states. Terrorism’s victims can be innocent civilians, or they can be political officials or even soldiers. More controversial is the term “terrorist.”
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is the modern face of terror. Unlike al-Qaeda, the Irish Republican Army, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Maoists in India, the Shining Path, and other traditional terrorist organizations, ISIS refuses to lurk in the shadows. Unlike Hezbollah, Hamas, the Tamil Tigers, or the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, ISIS is not content with controlling a limited amount of territory confined to a single nation-state.
The best way to understand the Islamic State (ISIS) is to see it as the next phase of al-Qaeda. All Sunni Islamic jihadi groups—Boko Haram, ISIS, Taliban, al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda, even Hamas—share the same motivations based on a literal and orthodox reading of Islamic history and doctrine: resurrecting a caliphate (which existed in various forms from 632 to 1924) that implements and spreads the totality of sharia, or Islamic law.